Welcome to the weekly Wednesday reread of Sunrunner’s Fire! This week a huge Thing that’s been hanging fire since book one finally blows up, and it’s about as not-pretty as expected. Meanwhile Rohan has a Plan. We don’t know exactly what it is yet, but it’s definitely happening.
Chapter 23—Stronghold: 34 Spring
So This Happens: Mireva flies into action, sorcerously flattens Pol, Riyan, and Rialt, and abducts Ruala. When Pol comes to, they discuss the situation and decide there’s no point in going after the kidnapper. After some time, Pol realizes they’re in Meiglan’s room, and that she’s out cold with a cup of drugged wine beside her.
The discussion continues, with some snapping and snarling. They wonder why Ruala specifically was abducted, and decide she’s safe until the ransom note arrives. Then they wonder, at some length, why Meiglan has been drugged. Then Pol and Riyan discuss the fact that Ruala is probably of sorcerous blood, with some time spent on the prejudice against sorcerers.
The discussion turns to the fact that Pol can sense sorcery, but his (alleged) mother is pure Sunrunner. It must come from Rohan. Pol is bitter about possibly having been lied to. Andry’s name is mentioned—he can’t learn about this. Then Pol confesses that his ring (which didn’t burn) has Andrade’s moonstone but the gold is dragon gold—the original, made from the special Sunrunner gold, didn’t fit.
The discussion cycles back around to how Ruala will be safe until the next shoe drops. That will be Ruval’s challenge to Pol for Princemarch. Pol expects it in the next day or so.
As they go to tell Rohan about all this, Pol reflects that Meiglan might not have seduced him after all. It might have been someone else in sorcerous disguise.
Meanwhile Chay and Andry are up on the ramparts, trying to understand one another. They debate the use of the term magic, and the concept of both physical and magical warfare. Then they discuss Andrade’s breeding program and the way Sunrunners and Andry’s new Goddess rituals are now everywhere, but so are Rohan’s laws.
Chay is concerned about Andry’s devr’im or magical warriors. Andry shares with him the vision he had the day he became Lord of Goddess Keep: total destruction, which may be caused by Pol’s being both Sunrunner and Prince.
Chay wonders if what Andry is doing will actually cause rather than prevent this disaster. Chay believes Andry believes in his vision. And he’s concerned about the way Sunrunners are becoming so blatant about what they do. He confesses, when pressed, that Maarken has been spying on Goddess Keep and the rituals there.
This crushes Andry. The discussion continues, circling around the same issues, but Andry is furious. Chay calls him on his selfishness and pride. He stomps out.
Rohan hears what Pol and Riyan have to tell him. Then he shows them where he keeps the secret translation of the Star Scroll. Riyan is reluctant to be so trusted, but Rohan isn’t fazed. He goes on to tell them that the version he has is decoded: it has the correct spells.
Rohan goes on to explain to Pol why he’s been so apparently inactive. When Masul challenged him, he didn’t include sorcery in his reckoning, and Maarken nearly died. Rohan made sure to read the scroll from end to end, so know he “knows it backwards.” That’s how he was able to rule the way he did regarding the Sunrunner in Gilad.
Rohan continues with his explanation/exposition. His laws are words, but his culture is a culture of the knife. Now he’s giving Pol the Sunrunner Prince and Riyan the sorcerer a “knife” to fight the coming war.
Pol proceeds to read the rules for single combat. They discuss the ramifications and the possible complications. Including the fact that Andry would support Pol because of the threat to all Sunrunners and their reputation. And also the fact that dranath is required.
Rohan leaves the two of them to read and memorize the scroll, then takes refuge with Sioned, who sees what they didn’t see. Ruala has been abducted because the enemey needs a third on the sorcerer side of the perath or combat challenge. She suspects they want Riyan, and Ruala is how they’ll get him.
Rohan intends to kill if he has to. Sioned objects, but has more and worse to tell him: about Meiglan, Pol, and the probable sorcerous seduction. And even worse: Pol is going to figure out that he’s part sorcerer.
Rohan says it’s time to tell him. Sioned is horrified. Rohan is implacable.
And I’m Thinking: The first half of the chapter is full of long, long, long explications as to why the characters have to do what the plot tells them, even though it’s totally against their personalities and inclinations up to this point. They talk and talk and talk about what just happened, instead of trying to do anything about it. With–bonus!–unconscious Princess (noticed barely and late) right beside them.
Then the pacing speeds up. There’s still a lot of talk and some stiff Rohan-and-Pol interaction, but once the young men are handed the scroll, we’re back to a headlong gallop. The chapter ends on a strong and even devastating note, as Sioned loses her long battle to keep Pol in the dark about his parentage.
Pol is actually reasonably intelligent here. He figures out that Mireva came to him as Meiglan, and he does some pretty decent close reading of the scroll. Rohan remains the cleverest of all the clever people, but there’s less leaning on it and more simple “This is the kind of person he is.” And that includes finally standing up to Sioned about Pol.
And in the middle there’s the meeting of Chay and Andry, which goes as meetings with Andry always go: someone trying to make Andry see reason, Andry refusing, and Andry losing his temper and storming off. Here we get the exact reason why he’s been pushing his agenda so hard: both the terror of his vision, and the supreme egotism that convinces him he, and only he, can prevent it from happening.
Except Chay is very probably right and everything Andry does just makes it more likely the vision will come true.
Chapter 24—Stronghold: 34 Spring
So This Happens: Rohan has put on a show of searching for Ruala, to oblige Mireva and provide a cover for his “next gambit.”
Meanwhile he and Sioned meet with Pol. He takes some considerable time to work around to the point, assisted by Sioned, who has stepped up and is holding firm.
While they temporize, Pol tells them about a rumor he heard as a child, that his father must be someone other than Rohan. Of course he never believed it.
Rohan tries to temporize further by asking whether sorcerers are “inherently evil.” Pol demands that he get to the point. Finally Rohan tells him whose son he really is.
With Sioned’s help, he tells Rohan what happened, in concise detail. Pol is stunned. Sioned tells him who else has always known. She continues to tell him what happened. Pol keeps emphasizing that it was all a lie. They continue with the story, though they don’t tell Pol that Ostvel killed Ianthe.
Pol reacts exactly as Sioned always expected. “Pol was blaming her, rejecting her—for something Rohan had done.” Rohan does everything he possibly can to shift the blame back to himself, while Sioned curls up in mute agony.
Pol flees. He finds himself in the Flametower, in agony and rage.
Sionell has followed him. She meets his fury with calm practicality. He lashes her with the fact that he knows she’s in love with him. This flattens her. Then he tells her what he just learned.
She not only rallies, she’s completely unfazed. She tells him she started seeing him clearly when she stopped loving him—and that catches him up short. He keeps on pushing with how his “whole life is a lie.” She pushes back with what he’s done to his adoptive mother, and when he denies that Sioned is his mother, she loses her temper completely, calls him cruel and disloyal “just like your grandsire,” and storms out.
Rohan hides and spies while Stronghold is evacuated. Various people react in predictable ways. Sionell does not: she’s apparently been deeply emotionally hurt, and has taken a late bath to wash off whatever it was.
Miyon is also not reacting as expected: he’s calm and confident. Meiglan meanwhile is barely able to walk; when her father roars at her, Pol appears and supports her. Rohan decides to make Miyon pay for his abuse of “this innocent child.”
Arlis shows up. There is badinage. Rohan gives orders for further searching of the castle.
Myrdal then appears, notices Rohan is fully and formally dressed, gets the point, and asks him what he needs. Secret chambers, he answers. Myrdal tells him how she knows about them: she’s a possible illegitimate descendant of Rohan’s great-grandfather. Then she gives him a lesson in how the secret hideaways are marked, with the secret history behind the marks: the old Sunrunner-sorcerer wars.
Rohan deduces that the Sunrunner hiding-holes have to have sunlight. He lets Myrdal know he’s figured it out, and summons various key persons. Myrdal asks what he intends to do. There is teasing. He is evasive, but makes it clear he has a plan, though he doesn’t think he can kill the sorceress.
Pol helps a recovering Meiglan into the courtyard, which is crowded with people in nightclothes. Pol notices that those who know his father aren’t speculating as to what he’s up to. They trust Rohan to get things done.
Meiglan has something to tell. She recognized Marron as someone her father had spoken to before they left Castle Pine. She also confirms for Pol that it must have been Mireva who seduced him, though he carries on a bit with the doubts and speculations.
The main thing is that she’s “just handed him her father on a golden plate.” This is proof that Miyon has conspired with the sorcerers.
Nevertheless he goes on with the doubts. Before he can either accuse or accept her, Arlis brings a summons from Rohan, which Pol is ordered not to disobey. He leaves Meiglan with an ambiguous and highly ambivalent touch.
And I’m Thinking: After almost three volumes, Pol finally finds out who he is, and his reaction has been telegraphed so often that it comes as no surprise at all. Nor, really, does his treatment of Sionell.
It’s still devastating, and we don’t actually get a sense of how he feels about Sioned. He gets all focused on himself and Meiglan and sorcerers. He’s not terribly inclined to blame Rohan, either, though maybe he’s just numb. There’s a lot going on, and it’s happening fast.
Really fast. Six more chapters. So much still to settle, and so much to bring to a conclusion. It’s going to be a wild ride.
Judith Tarr’s first novel, The Isle of Glass, appeared in 1985. Her new novel, Forgotten Suns, a space opera, was published by Book View Café in April. In between, she’s written historicals and historical fantasies and epic fantasies, some of which have been reborn as ebooks from Book View Café. She has won the Crawford Award, and been a finalist for the World Fantasy Award and the Locus Award. She lives in Arizona with an assortment of cats, two dogs, and a herd of Lipizzan horses.